"Do not grumble," St. Benedict tells his monks.
The first time he mentions this is in the fourth chapter of his rule for monasteries. He goes on to address grumbling, murmuring, or complaining in another eight chapters of the rule. Why does he mention this issue so many times? Are monks crotchety, curmudgeonly complainers by nature, or did St. Benedict know something about human nature? Whether we live in a monastery or a metropolis, we can all learn why we shouldn't grumble from the Father of Western Monasticism.
Do Not Grumble: It's In Scripture
Actually, St. Benedict wasn't the first person to tell us, "Do not grumble," or that we shouldn't complain or murmur. We can find numerous passages in Scripture telling us something similar. Consider the following examples:
• "Do all things without grumbling or questioning." (Phil 2:14)
• "Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors." (James 5:9)
• "Be hospitable to one another without complaining." (1 Peter 4:9)
St. Benedict is in good company — St. Paul, St. James, and St. Peter also tell us, in so many words, "do not grumble."
Types of Complainers
Why does anyone grumble or complain in the first place? Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener is a specialist in positive psychology. He says that there typically are three types of complainers. One type is the chronic complainer. They seem to focus on everything that's wrong — they're never really satisfied. The second type is the venter who wants to blow off steam. They're self-absorbed; they like attention and validation, but don't necessarily want to solve the problem. The final group he mentions are those who want to solve a problem. As an example, a steak you ordered has come out at the wrong temperature. Talking to the waiter about it — complaining to solve a problem — can be a good thing, especially if done tactfully.
Pride, Complaining, and Sinning
What's really behind most of the inappropriate complaining and grumbling? When things don't go our way, we can do one of two things, it seems. We can accept them as God's active or passive will. Or we can become upset, grumbling and complaining about the self-perceived injustice we've incurred. G.A. Simon's Commentary for Benedictine Oblates tells us that grumbling is a sign of pride. Sometimes that pride shows in our impatience or indignance. In any event, we do ourselves no spiritual favors when we complain.
As St. Benedict tells us, "Even though he carries out the order, his action will not be accepted with favor by God, who sees that he is grumbling in his heart. He will have no reward for service of this kind." (RB 5:18-19)
St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, states, "Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so." Not only do we lose any possible merit for the work we do while complaining — we probably are sinning as well. St. Augustine goes even further: "Oh, what a miserable, deadly plague! Oh, how poisonous!" Considering what these saints are telling us, is it any wonder that St. Benedict was so concerned with murmuring in the monastery? It's a clear and present danger to an individual's soul. At the same time, it presents a danger to the community's spiritual welfare. This is true whether we are in a religious community or in a family, a parish, or some other group when we complain.
Do Not Grumble: A Particular Examen
Time for a particular examen now: when I think back over the last day, have I violated the "do not grumble" precept? What about complaining to others about my perception of the homily from today's Mass? How about grumbling over the delay in traffic as I'm on my way to an appointment? Perhaps I've murmured about someone's attire of which I disapprove. Maybe I'm doing the dishes and grumbling, in my mind, about why someone else didn't clean up after themselves. Let's say I am blessed to perform some sacristan duties at my parish. People slop molten wax over the brass followers on the candles that I then need to clean. Can I clean them up without grumbling? We each probably can add more examples.
Break the Chains That Bind You
Pride, impatience, ingratitude — and any number of other sins — can drag us down and lead to sinning through complaining and grumbling. When we learn to discern what's going on in our hearts, we can begin to make the changes that will get us on the right track. We can begin to break the chains that bind us to sinful habits and replace those bad habits with positive, virtuous habits instead.
Change Your Thinking
Take every thought captive." (2 Cor 10:5)
If you find yourself with a bad habit or two — grumbling or otherwise — there are some things you can do. One practice that helps is to change your thinking. Simply change what you are thinking when you catch yourself heading into the negative mudhole. That will help you change your emotions, which will help to change your behaviors. Stop the thoughts that are dragging you down, and refocus. Follow St. Paul's advice and "take every thought captive." (2 Cor 10:5)
Give thanks to the Lord for His many blessings He has showered down on you, is in the moment giving to you, and will give you in the future. Think about all that you truly can be thankful for, and switch from thoughts of aggravation to thoughts of appreciation. St. Paul gives us a tip here, as well: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:8)
Offer up the tribulations you may be experiencing with Jesus Christ crucified toward an intention you're praying for. Unite your suffering to Jesus and offer it up — take advantage of redemptive suffering. Don't let it go to waste.
Pray for God's Grace
We need to lean on God for his merciful love and support. Some changes we need to make only can be made with, in, and through Him. Pray for his help. If pride and impatience are holding you back, creating negative thinking, complaints, or grumbling, pray for the grace to grow in the virtues of patience and humility, as well as meekness. Pray for the grace to grow in fortitude — the virtue and the gift — to support your change efforts. If you need to be more grateful, pray for the grace to grow in the virtue of gratitude and in the gift of piety for support therein.
The Letter to the Philippians says: "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:6–7)
This life is short. Let's not spend it grumbling and complaining. Rather, let's pull up the habit of grumbling by its roots. Let's give thanks to God for the gift of the breath of life this day, and for all that He chooses to give us in this day of our life.
"When [the roots of our vices] have been pulled up from … the depth of our thoughts, our mind will then be able to abide in utter patience and holiness." - John Cassian: The Institutes
Dom Cingoranelli. "Do Not Grumble: No Murmuring And No Complaining." Catholic Stand (January 28, 2022).
Reprinted with permission from Catholic Stand.
Dom Cingoranelli is a Benedictine-educated cradle Catholic — a revert to the faith — and an Oblate of St. Benedict.Copyright © 2022 Catholic Stand
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